the romance of unreciprocated love

The Romance of Unreciprocated Love

One of the most poignant depictions of unrequited love in classic literature is found in Les Miserable when M. Marius remains oblivious to Éponine’s deep love for him until it is too late. The 2012 movie adaptation captures the drama well. In the sad and moving scene, Éponine walks barefooted in the drenching rain into the dirty streets of Paris, weeping and singing to herself this elegy: 

I love him, but every day I'm learning. 
All my life, I've only been pretending.
Without me, his world will go on turning.
A world that's full of happiness, 
that I have never known…
I love him, but only on my own.

The tale of Éponine’s love for Marius is tragic. But it is exactly for this reason that it is also romantic. The dramatic irony, though, is that only the reader gets the romance of the situation, and not poor Éponine, of course! In the moment, all Éponine sees is her desperation as she sadly recalls all her unreciprocated efforts to attract Marius’ attention. But readers see the bigger picture. They see the romantic tragedy. 

As a single TCK, I have found myself in a position like Éponine many times. I too have loved others, in a romantic sense, without that love being reciprocated. I promise you, I saw nothing romantic about my situation while I was in it. But now, looking back, I see that the heartbreaking situation I was in was a depiction of a greater, more powerful picture of Divine Romance. 

The Dancing Chameleon

Life is a play, and I am part of it. 

I like my part in the play. I like it because, for a few moments, I get to be someone else … and I am especially good at doing this as a TCK. 

The curtains open. The boy comes on. Cupid shoots his arrow. That’s my cue. 

My accent shifts to suit his. My interests shift to suit his. My clothes become brighter. My smiles, wider. My expressions, well, more expressive. 

I dance around and around. I do a handstand. I stand on a chair. I jump off a chair. I make a paper airplane coated with love poetry and send it sailing. I recite Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? loudly. I star-jump 10 times on the spot. I do anything, everything, and yet this boy is as oblivious as Maddening Marius. 

I continue my theatrics over and over again until I exhaust myself, but the boy is as blind as a bat. 

Soon, the time comes for him to leave the stage – my life – and he does this quietly and unassumingly. I lie exhausted and well-spent on the floor, in a pool of sweat and tears. I hear the audience of three (me, myself, and I) laughing hysterically at me, louder and louder, as I sob. 

After all, according to William Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”

Mea Culpa! 

Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!I did it to myself. 

I have the urge to say this after my hopes of a particular romantic interest have been dashed to smithereens. And this has happened many times. Sometimes two or three times a year. (Yep, I should work on spacing my romantic interests out a little bit more.)

To be fair, I don’t think I usually do a very good job of showing my interest. But somehow, my love-dulled brain convinces me that the person concerned is aware of my intentions and is reciprocating them in his own way. The simple act of opening the door, of a friendly hug, or of anything at all, really, becomes amplified to mean more (so much more!) than just sweet brotherly and Christ-like love. 

After the heartbreak of learning that my love is (and always was) one-sided, I do a mental inventory of my mistakes and the endless “if onlys.” I convince myself that the fault is on his side. Then I realise, with the use of simple logic, that the fault is actually mine. I rebuke myself and tell myself I will never, never do that again … and then I am back at it again a few months later. 

“Mea Culpa!” 

The Romance of Longing 

Ecclesiastes could be seen as a book of doom and gloom. It’s almost as if King Solomon thought of everything good he could think of, except God: romantic love, longing, success, wealth, property, fame, and power. He then proclaimed, “This too is meaningless!” 

“Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless!” (Eccles. 1:2) (Imagine King Solomon emphatically reciting this in a Shakespearean voice.)

But can romantic love and longing, even when unfulfilled, be truly meaningless? 

Yes and no. 

Yes, because there is no purpose to romantic love if it remains one-sided. No, because unfulfilled longings expose to us a greater need and point us to a greater Romance.

A Deeper Need 

Romantic love belies a deeper need: the desire for acceptance and companionship. 

When we are loved, we feel accepted. So we hunt, sometimes unconsciously, for love. Some find this love and acceptance in food, movies, sports, or romantic interests. 

For those of us single TCKs, we can fall into the trap of wishing our whole singleness season away, hopping from one hit-and-miss train to the next. 

The plumber saves ample time if he knows that the clogged sink isn’t fixed by first giving it a coat of shining, silver paint. Likewise, we save ourselves from disappointment if we know that we will never fill the void in ourselves by finding the hypothetical “perfect man” or “perfect woman.” 

Yes, indeed, it would save us a lot of heartbreak to know that Christ has already granted us the acceptance we seek (Rom. 15:7) if we have entrusted our lives to Him and repented of our sins. As a result, we do not need to waste away our singleness season by seeking to fill our soul’s void with the aftermath of romantic tragedies. We can breathe and take our time to love others freely without the mental strain of calculating who is most likely to reciprocate that love. We can love for the sake of Love Himself. 

A Greater Romance 

G.K. Chesterton writes in his classic, Orthodoxy, that “[l]ove is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.” 

This claim is astonishing because it sheds light on the greatest love of all: the love God has for the world. He loves us even though most have never – and will never – reciprocate His love. And yet His love isn’t blind or meaningless. It is far from being that. 

God so loved the world that He gave … so begins the climax of this Great Romance. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ESV

This verse is potent because later on in the same book of John, Jesus declares that the world not only doesn’t return His love, but it hates Him. 

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18 ESV, emphasis added

This very fact makes the tragedy of the cross the greatest Romance of all time. God gave His love even though He knew beforehand that most wouldn’t reciprocate it (and that some would even deny that He exists!). Éponine’s tragedy pales in comparison to this.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7–8 ESV, emphasis added

The whole climax of Christianity lies in the crux of this romantic tragedy. But since the instigator of this Divine Romantic Tragedy is the Almighty God, it means that there is a redemption – a resurrection – at the end of it. Leave Shakespeare to use gloomy death to destroy fine romance. In God’s eternal script, Christ’s death is only the beginning of Divine Triumph. 

True Loving

Since we know the extent of God’s undying love for us, what should our love look like? 

“Let love be genuine…” (Rom. 12:9 ESV)

“Love one another with brotherly affection…” (Rom. 12:10 ESV)

“…love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27 ESV)

“..lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Luke 6:35 ESV)

In short, we should love as He loved us. We must love equally those we know will never reciprocate our love as we love those we are romantically interested in. We must love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We must love our enemies as we love our friends. 

This is true loving.

TCKs for Christ: Writer

Joy Adewumi

is an avid dreamer, writer, and unapologetic Christian. As her name states, her one purpose in life is to spread joy wherever it is needed. Formerly a PK, she has lived in South Africa as a TCK for most of her life. She enjoys reading, writing, and playing the piano. Connect with her on D’JoyGene or Instagram, @DJoyGene

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